Fear of a Tweet Planet

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 28 2013 4:32 PM

Fear of a Tweet Planet

My colleague Justin Peters writes about the sighs of outrage engendered by Rachel Jeantel, and while you can read his words elsewhere on the site, but this feels like the gist:

The implication of all the social media chatter and news coverage is clear: Rachel Jeantel was out of place in a courtroom. The flipside of that implication is clear, too: Rachel Jeantel should go back to the ghetto where she belongs. In fact, that’s the whole point of the Trayvon Martin case, which has become a referendum on how comfort and privilege deal with the unfamiliar.

That's probably why the best YouTube source for Jeantel's testimony refers, in a gawking way, to her "confusing ebonics." That also explains the cleverness of this bit of examination.

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We've heard this nudge-nudge argument before; we heard it last year, when it was revealed that Martin's Twitter handle was "No Limit Nigga." The defense's goal is to make Martin look essentially dangerous and threatening, so George Zimmerman was acting like anyone would act if they saw a teen like this skulking in the rain. If you look for it, social media's full of evidence for the case. Every couple of days, the conservative tweet-aggregation site Twitchy grabs evidence of "the bloodthirsty Twitter lynch mob," the black people (people with black faces in their avatars anyway) who react to trial news by tweeting stuff like "Ill kill Zimmerman my self fuck it" or "Fuck that nigga Zimmerman."

Are they actually threatening to trek to Sanford, Fla., and murder the guy? No—they're angry and oversharing. And what they're sharing is supposed to scare us into sympathizing with Zimmerman. It used to be you had to wait until a race-centric trial was over to get the anecdotes and video of angry people threatening race war, when they're actually just venting. Thanks, Internet!

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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